Every business professional has had the experience of sitting through a terrible meeting.
Meetings called without notice, meetings that never end, meetings that have no agenda, meetings that go off the rails and end up unproductive, meetings that result in conflict, not to mention “meeting bingo” – they are the plague of offices everywhere.
On average, employees spend 5.6 hours per week in meetings and 69% do not believe the meetings they attend are effective. The prevalence of bad meetings has led to a generally held perception that ineffective meetings are simply the status quo. However, ineffective meetings do not need to be the new workplace standard.
Conducting effective meetings is not only possible, but easier than many meeting organizers realize. Abiding by the eight principles of effective meetings will ensure maximum worker productivity and give the best probability for a positive meeting outcome. These logical considerations align attendees’ expectations and use time efficiently to drive strategic planning and revenue generation.
Knowing why you are meeting and what you hope to accomplish sounds simple enough, but more meeting organizers than would care to admit it forget this important first step. Before deciding who to invite to the meeting, when to have it, and how long it should be, you must understand why it needs to occur.
In advance of the meeting create an agenda and during the meeting stick to it. Informing attendees of the purpose of the meeting is essential. Declare the agenda ahead of time so attendees can prepare accordingly. A New York Times article explains,
“The agenda provides a compass for the conversation, so the meeting can get back on track if the discussion wanders off course. If leaders make sure there is an agenda before a meeting starts, everyone will fall in line quickly.”
Once the agenda is set, allow the meeting to evolve naturally to avoid tunnel vision and group think. The agenda should equip attendees with the framework to share perspective and strategic ideas, not control the conversation.
Before a meeting is ever conducted, the attendee list is set. Unfortunately, some meetings go wrong from this early step.
Too often meeting organizers will over-invite, in fear of leaving people out. Other times, non-essential personnel get looped in just in case additional perspective or experience is needed. However, every time employees attend meetings and do not contribute, their attendance could have been substituted with an informative post-meeting email.
Nothing is more frustrating to employees than having peers and managers fill their calendars with frivolous meetings because these obligations take away from completing time-sensitive projects. The result is more hours at the office, and a work-life imbalance that increases the risk of employee burn out.
The meeting organizer and all attendees should arrive on time. Nothing derails a meeting faster than needing to wait for people to show up or starting the meeting and having to recap what latecomers missed.
Additionally, being late gives the impression that the meeting is not important. This is especially damaging for recurring meetings because this tone is difficult to reverse once it has been established. In extreme cases, too many inefficient meetings poison the perception around all meetings at an organization, breeding a corporate culture of widespread meeting ineffectiveness.
Many managers are strict when it comes to meeting start times, but not meeting ending times. End times are as important to respect as start times because meetings that run late can cause scheduling ripples throughout the rest of the day, inadvertently thwarting the effectiveness of other meetings. Enforcing a strict end time reinforces the sentiment that employees’ time is important and will be respected. As an added benefit, rigid ending times force attendees to keep meetings moving instead of allowing attendees to get sidetracked.
Effective meetings require sound technical components (like key attendees and on time arrival) as well as an emotional willingness to be effective. Advance planning increases the chances of having an effective meeting by ensuring employees are mentally prepared. Give enough notice so that employees can plan their day appropriately. “Pop up” meetings derail productivity, leading to rampant frustration. Disgruntled employees are not in a cooperative frame of mind and, therefore, will not be as effective as employees that feel valued and respected.
Effective meetings take only as long as necessary. Keep meetings as short as possible to increase their chances of being productive. Do not schedule an hour-long meeting when a half hour meeting will suffice. When longer meetings (four or more hours) are needed, improve satisfaction by feeding employees and scheduling breaks to give attendees a mental respite. Catering to attendees’ physical and psychological needs allows for more effective meetings.
Recurring staff meetings like the “Monday morning meeting” are often the biggest time-waster for attendees. Meeting just to meet needlessly fills employees’ calendars, killing the efficacy of meetings. According to a study titled Anatomy of a Meeting,
“Most business professionals attend a total of 61.8 meetings per month and research indicates that over 50 percent of this meeting time is wasted. Assuming each of these meetings is one hour long; professionals lose 31 hours per month in unproductive meetings, or approximately four full workdays.”
Simply eliminating recurrent meetings can remove a portion of the productivity waste that employers incur, whittling down lost time.
Depending on the nature of the meeting, establishing certain guidelines can facilitate a smooth and effective meeting. While creating baseline rules may not be appropriate for every meeting, brainstorming and ideation meetings in particular can benefit from ground rules to ensure creativity is not stifled. Another example of using rules to improve meeting effectiveness would be asking employees not to air grievances during informational staff meetings, instead opting to use formal channels to address these types of concerns.
Failing to create a post-meeting action plan is like bringing sports teams together and forgetting to play the game.
Every meeting should conclude with next steps to ensure that attendees leave knowing what is expected of them moving forward. Outline deliverables, assign duties, and set timeframes to equip employees for further action. Determine at the meeting if a follow-up meeting is needed so that attendees are informed about what is coming next and don’t feel bamboozled when a subsequent meeting is called.
Conducting Effective Meetings is a SwiftLeadership® Café module.
Subscribing to SwiftLeadership® Café gives you access to:
- Customized web portal login access.
- A certified SwiftLeadership Facilitator throughout the lifetime of your access.
- Each module comes with PPT, complete facilitator guide with facilitation instructions, assessment tools, small group exercises and templates.
- Designed to be delivered by leaders to frontline supervisors during their regularly scheduled staff meetings (each module is 30-60 minutes in length). Based on your organizational structure, it may also be self-facilitated by internal HR teams to their leadership teams.
SwiftLeadership Café has an entire menu of choices to enable your organization to create your own internal leadership development program. Each module is 30-60 minutes in length, allowing practical leadership tools to be developed within the organization without taking time away from your day-to-day business.